THE redevelopment of Townlands Hospital in Henley has finally begun.
Workmen are currently levelling the site so that construction of the new health campus can begin.
A ground-breaking ceremony was held on Monday which was attended by members of Henley town and Oxfordshire county councils, developer Amber Solutions for Care, contractors Vinchi and NHS Property Services, which owns the site.
The dignitaries donned hard hats and high-visibility jackets to plunge spades into a mound of earth.
Mike Leto, project director for Amber Solutions for Care, said: I am really pleased and proud of this project. We feel it is totally aligned with NHS objectives of delivering care close to the home and thats great.
From a commercial perspective, it is really innovative and delivers a clinical and commercially sustainable solution and I believe it will be an example to other NHS opportunities across the country.
The ceremony marked years of campaigning by councillors, residents and health professionals to stop the hospital being closed and then demanding it was rebuilt.
Peter Ashby, a retired GP who worked at the Bell Surgery and is a member of the Townlands League of Friends, said: This is the most wonderful day and its a great achievement for the town of Henley and those people in the surrounding villages.
He said the town owed a debt to town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, for driving the project forward.
Dr Ashby said: Since 1984, which is when the struggle to rebuild Townlands started, at last were there and Im delighted.
The central part of the new development will include inpatient, outpatient, ambulatory care, X-ray, podiatry, physiotherapy and dentistry services.
There will also be a 12-bed Sue Ryder hospice, which is moving from Nettlebed. and a new 64-bed care home to replace Chilterns End care home in Greys Road.
The remaining land and listed buildings on the 2.36 hectare site will be adapted to provide 32 assisted-living and 12 new key worker homes.
Construction is expected to take two years.
Robin Williams, who chairs NHS Property Services, said: It is very pleasing to deliver this milestone achievement for the people of Henley and to signal the redevelopment of the site.
We will continue to work closely with all parties to ensure the hospital is delivered on time, to specification and is able to deliver first-class healthcare in the local community.
Cllr Reissmann missed the ceremony but said: It is an exciting day for everyone in and around Henley who relies on Townlands Hospital.
The community has been unwavering in its support for Townlands and ensuring this redevelopment secures its long-term future in a 21st century setting. It has been a long struggle since the War Memorial Hospital closed in 1983 and we would like to thank and congratulate everyone involved for their hard work and commitment in getting the project to this point.
NHS Property Services, Amber Solutions for Care, Vinci Construction and Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group will be holding regular public information sessions to keep residents up to date with the development.